“Make sure Meera takes some pictures. She has Anil’s old iphone.” Nancy had asked me to call when we got to the ranch. Usually I ask the parents to accompany us for the first trip. But I’ve known Nancy for years and Meera, who is nine, is unusually self reliant. My concerns at the ranch are safety, safety and safety. I was sympathetic with her request, but I felt confident that the safety of her child was more important to her, by a long shot, than whether or not Meera took pictures.

I had had to step into the house momentarily to make the call (there being no cell phone coverage in Paicines). When I went to rejoin the assembled crew, which, today, consisted of Julia, Maddie, Victoria and Meera, I saw everyone chatting happily and making plans, but no Meera. The ranch has a flat and open topography, but it did take a minute before we located Meera who was crouched down at the bottom of a bush towards the far end of the yard. She had the iphone in hand, aiming it directly at one very cute kitten, of which there are four currently residing at the ranch. Clearly unable to pull herself away, I stayed close to the house (and read books to Colton and Maddi, ages 4 and 2) while Meera spent the better part of an hour out of her mind with happiness as she immersed herself in an abundance of kittens, iphone in the lead all the way.

In order to keep an eye on Meera, we were reading the books outside, my legs outstretched, Maddi sitting on one thigh and Colton bouncing up and down (or rolling back and forth, but definitely not sitting) on the other. Halfway through the second book, Meera decided to make an assessment of her photos and walking towards us, looking at the gadget, not us, announced that she had taken 297 photos, all of kittens.

It’s not that Meera doesn’t love horses, she really does. It’s just that she has a unique approach to her relationship to them. For whatever reason, this period of engaged “play” is important to her before she can get started riding. Most kids dig right in with mucking or grooming or organizing tack and for everyone some kind of work at the barn is required. But Meera has been determined to not participate on this level. What she does instead is play intensely or draw. There is a white board at Campo
Vista (where Chavali, Freedom and Velvet live). Meera’s idea of helping at Campo Vista is to draw horse pictures on the white board. Her most recent picture was an adorable rendition of Velvet with her blanket on and her tail braided, which it always is to keep it clean when the paddock is muddy.

After her photo frenzy, Meera was then ready to go ride, which she did for over an hour. The girls would ride all day if we let them, but if they want to ride, they have to do some of the work that goes along with it. With less then an hour before we had to leave, I called them all in and told them it was time to get to work, then looked sternly at Meera and said that she, in particular, had to take the saddle off and put it back on the rack. She did as I asked, but looked miserable doing it. I had intended to give her another task after that, but before I got the chance, she was off like a rocket to the house to do drawing with Kailey. Kailey is Michelle’s six year-old daughter who is also an accomplished artist. It wasn’t exactly work, but keeping Kailey company was a contribution in it’s own way, so I let her be.

Although I don’t own Velvet, I spend a lot of time taking care of her, mostly because her owner very generously lets me take her out with the kids when I’m in a pinch and short a horse. But lately relations have been a little strained between myself and her owner. Velvet battled hives for most of January and required twice daily medications. I wished that I could have had more control of her care and miscommunications between myself and Lisa (her owner) resulted in several lapses in medications, which caused Velvet’s condition to periodically worsen. It was during a particularly strained period that Meera left the drawing of Velvet and I could tell Lisa was not entirely happy with me. She came to the barn that same day and was so touched by the heartfelt and remarkable drawing, she forgave me everything.

One of these days I really will have to tackle to problem of how to get Meera to work, but in the mean time I have to admit, in her own way, she makes an invaluable contribution.

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